Wednesday, 30 July 2014

L is for...

Light

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed that I love taking photos of sunsets.  I think the sky can be so beautiful, especially when you get that stunning mix of colours.  This is one of my more recent ones; taken last week.

sunset

I am taking part in the Alphabet Photography Project over on PODcast.  Head over there to join in or see how other blogger's interpreted this week's letter.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Book Review: The Vintage Summer Wedding by Jenny Oliver

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The Vintage Summer Wedding by Jenny Oliver


This book was chosen as part of my summer of light reading and I downloaded it onto my Kindle (I know, gasp of horror) but the blurb on Amazon took me in and I couldn't help myself.

Anna Whitehall has it all; an enviable job in the capital city, money to burn, and a loving fiancé.  To top it all off, she is planning the wedding of the year to be held at a top London venue and complete with Vera Wang dress.

Unfortunately, when she loses her job unexpectedly she has to return with her fiancé to the village of Nettleton, the hometown she flounced out of at the first opportunity, promising everyone there that she would fulfil her ambition of being a Prima Ballerina on the stage.  Her return means abandoning her previous sophisticated life, taking a job in the dusty old antiques shop and having to face all the people she so ungraciously walked away from all those years before.

Through various experiences in Nettleton, Anna begins to see that she can have all that she wants and more besides, if she can just let go of her past.  This is a real feel good contemporary story about realising that sometimes life doesn't work out quite the way you plan, but that doesn't mean that you can't find real happiness.  

Jenny Oliver sets Anna up to be such a spoiled brat that in the initial chapters I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to continue reading.  She is rude and aggressive but as the story unfolds you begin to learn her journey and the reasons she was brought to this place in her life.

Although the ending is perhaps a little neat and predictable, it doesn't detract from the story at all.  It fits entirely with the feel good element.  The story is snippy and to the point, it moves along at a good pace and you don't get any unnecessary waffle which keeps the book short.  Although there were a few spelling mistakes which I am beginning to realise is usual for e-books but nonetheless a pain, I think this book would be ideal for a summer read.

Have you read anything good lately?  Why not come and link up with my July Book Love Linky.  Would love to see you there.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Moshi Monsters come to the Sea Life Centre, Manchester


We are real fans of Sea Life Centres, having been to Birmingham's a number of times and, more recently, Blackpool for Eli's 3rd birthday so when we were invited to the Sea Life Centre in the Trafford Centre, we were more than happy to oblige.

Naturally, we made the decision to park on the opposite side of the Trafford centre, so we had to enjoy a brisk 15 minute walk/run/drag through the perfume section of Debenhams and then through the main shopping area to get to the correct place!  For future visitors, there is a car park next to the Sea Life Centre and Legoland, make sure you park there.

We arrived, walked in and were handed various activity books which included the normal Sea Life Centre book, a special Moshi Monsters one and a rather fetching pair of Captain hats.


The first room you enter in the Centre is a dark room where you are given a short presentation about Green Sea Turtles.  As we were the only family the guide asked us to sit on the floor and he sat with us, telling us the tale of Ernie the Sea Life Centre's resident Green Sea Turtle.  He was very engaging and we were impressed that he decided to sit and talk with us rather than presenting from the front.  He made it really interactive, asking Meg and Eli questions and high-fiving them when they were right and because of this, the kids were transfixed throughout the whole talk and obviously really enjoyed the little show. After the show we crossed the 'sea' and walked through the next door into the aquarium.

Part of the Moshi Monsters activity book was to find the moshlings who have hidden in various exhibits around the centre and helpfully for little people, Buster Bumblechops is on each exhibit housing a moshling with his telescope, ready to help you spot them.  It was a great way to get the kids looking into the exhibits too, asking questions about things they had spotted which they might otherwise have passed over.



One of the most exciting elements is the tunnel; here you can spot sharks and also Ernie the Green Sea Turtle.  We had lots of fun waiting for him to swim past us with his fishy friends.


We also really enjoyed the interactive rockpool experience, where the kids got to touch a crab.  Again, the member of staff leading the talk was brilliant with the children listening; he was very engaging and happy to answer any questions asked.  I'm fairly sure Meg would have been happy to stay and listen to him for a couple of hours!




Overall we really enjoyed our visit, although it didn't take us too long to walk through, the kids thought it was great and there was plenty to occupy them.  The Centre stays open until 7pm and when we arrived at 5.30pm it was practically empty...I would definitely recommend visiting at a quiet time to really be able to make the most of your visit and enjoy all the exhibits.

At the end, the kids received a Buster Bumblechops Sea Life Conservation Hero Award for discovering all of the hidden moshlings as well as a sticker and a badge.  


Please ignore the little photobomber!

The Moshi Monsters are in Manchester until the 31st August, if you do visit make sure you visit the Moshling Swap Zone where you can exchange up to 6 moshlings.  It is located just before the soft play section.  You can also meet Buster, Katsuma or Poppet at one of the scheduled character meetings.

Disclaimer: We were invited to this event and given entry into the Sea Life Centre, however all thoughts and opinions are our own. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

K is for...

Kite

We have had some ideal kite flying weather recently; glorious sunshine combined with just enough wind to allow a kite to take flight.

It was the first time Meg and Eli had ever flown a kite, my Other Half too.  Suffice to say they enjoyed it immensely.


I am joining in with the Alphabet Photography Project over on PODcast.  Head over there to see how other blogger's interpreted this week's letter.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Simplest Kind of Fun


It might sound silly but some of my best childhood memories are of the most innocuous things:

* Stealing my dad's socks so we could use them as missiles as we chased each other around the house.

* Handstand competitions in the garden (anyone remember knife, fork and spoon?!)

* Hot potato with a water balloon just knowing it was going to explode on me...I was usually right!

We didn't have fancy gadgets and a lot of technology when I was growing up and I still have really fond memories of my childhood.  I think that's the reason why I'm so keen for Meg and Eli to be able to build their own memories of doing simple yet enjoyable things.

On Saturday morning, my Other Half went out to clean the car.  It was long overdue but with the ridiculous mixture of weather we've been having we hadn't been able to get around to doing it.

Naturally, Meg and Eli were desperate to join in and although he fought it claiming that the car would probably end up less clean than before, eventually my Other Half caved and let them go outside and join him.


I was sat inside, reading and listening to the squeals and exclamations as they got stuck in.  It's not a big deal, it's not a big job and yet, to them, it was the makings of a memory.  


A time when they got to have a go at doing something the grown ups do.  A time when they laughed about Eli concentrating so very hard on cleaning his little section of the car.  A time when Meg stuck her hands a little too keenly into the bucket and ended up with a mouthful of bubbles.


Those are the memories which will stick with them.  However simplistic they may seem.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

J is for...

Joy

I might be pushing it a little bit with this one as I know it doesn't actually look as though he is enjoying himself but he really is.  Or maybe it should be my joy at seeing Eli having so much fun doing something so simple.  You wouldn't think the act of splashing could cause such amusement but Eli was entertained for at least 20 minutes just trying to cover every available surface, and person, in his bubbly paddling pool water.


I am joining in with the Alphabet Photography Project over on PODcast.  Head over there to see how other blogger's and keen photographers interpreted this week's letter.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The First School Report


I'm sure I wasn't the only parent who was a little bit nervous about receiving their child's school report this month (I know some are still waiting!) - for us, not only was it our first experience of 'the report' but it was also our first real opportunity to see how Meg had gotten on since we made the decision to move halfway through the school year.

So many people had said to us that we needn't worry, that children are so adaptable at her age, but there was also just that little tingle of worry...would she have made the transition okay?

I saw many parents standing in the playground, ripping into the tell-tale brown envelopes, desperate for news of how their child or children had fared in the school year but I managed to make it all the way to the car before curiosity got the best of me.

I'll admit, I shed a little tear when I read the comments about Meg.  It's strange, hearing someone else tell you about your child.  Remarks such as 'Meg shows good control and co-ordination' is not something I would ever have said about Meg if you had asked me and it's interesting to discover the differences between the Meg we get to experience at home and the one at school.

Other comments made me laugh out loud, 'Meg loves being creative and spontaneously sings songs'...that sounds much more like the Meg I know!

She achieved 'exceeding' level in each of her Early Learning Goals apart from numbers where she received 'expected'...clearly she takes after me (the woman who still counts on her fingers...) and not her Daddy who works with numbers all day long.


Of course, I know that this is just the beginning of her time in school and that much can change, including her interests and strengths but I am just so proud of how well she has done.  She really is our bright little spark and we couldn't be more pleased with her report.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Day Out: Windmill Animal Farm, Burscough

It's not often that I take Eli somewhere by himself.  I mean, we spend 7 days a week together and 5 of those are when Meg is at school but we tend to haunt the local places such as parks, the library, the beach and so on.  If I was going to pay to go somewhere for the day it would generally be a whole family affair.

However, I decided after a pretty rubbish week that we both deserved a treat and so we went to visit our local farm; Windmill Animal Farm.  Although we've driven past it a number of times this was our first visit here.

Windmill Animal Farm is a working farm which offers visitors the chance to see your usual farm animals as well as some more unusual ones.  It has three play areas, including a large soft play, a cafe and a miniature train.

I am generally useless at knowing whether prices are reasonable but I thought it wasn't too bad here; it is £6 for adults, £7 for children or a family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) is £24.  Under 2's are free.  You get a bag of animal feed on entry as well.

We arrived just after 10.30am and stayed until we had to collect Meg from school, leaving at 2.45pm and I'm fairly sure Eli could have continued to play if we hadn't had to leave.



Animal wise, it was probably a little light; we had exhausted the free bag of feed and generally seen all the animals after about an hour.  Eli didn't seem too bothered by this as he was more interested in the diggers, the pedal tractors, the train and the play areas so in that respect, there was plenty more to occupy him.


It costs £1 extra to go on the train but this was definitely the highlight for Eli.  It takes you halfway round the farm, you then get off and have a little play in the second play area before reboarding and coming back into the station.


I was expecting it to be fairly quiet as we went midweek and although there were two preschool groups visiting, it wasn't all that bad.  There is lots of space and by about 1pm we pretty much had the place to ourselves.



My only gripe would be the cafe food.  It cost me £10 for the two of us and I thought the food was average.  Had I known in advance I would have prepared a picnic as there is a large picnic area and the weather was perfect for it.  You live and learn, eh!



I have put together a little video of our trip, which is my first time doing anything like this so I know it could probably be better but...enjoy! 



There are lots of special events which take place at Windmill Farm throughout the year and this summer they have a Maize Maze which I am very excited about.  I have always wanted to take the kids to one so we will definitely be coming back in the summer holidays although I doubt it will be as peaceful as it was this time around.

I would definitely recommend this for younger children.  We had a great time and I can't wait to go back with Meg in tow.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Book Review & Giveaway: Half A King by Joe Abercrombie

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Half A King by Joe Abercrombie


As part of my relaxing summer plans I had made the decision not to read any heavy duty books and instead to stick to light contemporary fiction.  That was, of course, until I was asked to review Half A King.

Half A King is Joe Abercrombie's first foray into the world of Young Adult fiction with this book being aimed 15 years plus.

 

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself. And he must do it all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge. Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…


My Other Half has read some of Joe Abercrombie's other works but this was my first experience.  I'm a fan of YA fiction anyway but having read the book I think it is easily suitable for adults as well.  I really enjoyed reading it.

It's very much a coming of age story, the protagonist Yarvi has everything and then some stacked against his progression in the world.   When his father and brother are murdered he must abandon his dreams of stepping away from his royal life to become a minister and take the throne.  However through a series of betrayals he loses his newly acquired throne and swears a vow to regain it, whatever the cost.  He finds himself amongst a ragtag band of misfits and together they must overcome the odds.

At times, the story is very bleak.  I'm not sure there is actually anything which goes right for Yarvi but somehow Abercrombie manages to write it in a way that you don't feel like putting the book down and walking away.  You continue to root for Yarvi and to see his life become all that he wants it to be.  I think it helps that the story is quite snappy and short.  It is action-packed so you keep on turning the pages; there aren't any parts of the book which leave you wondering when you are going to get to the end which helps with this particular style of writing I think.

I read this book in two days; from the very first paragraph I was utterly hooked.  It is full of twists and turns that you absolutely don't see coming, the very last reveal on the final two pages of the book made me gasp out loud.  I was so absorbed in the pace of the story that I had completely overlooked some major facts which would have lead me to guess the twist and I love that.  Predictable books are so boring!

This is the first of a new series and I can't wait to read the rest when they come out.  I thought it was amazing which is why I'm excited to be able to offer one copy of the book to one of my readers.  Even if you've never read Joe Abercrombie before I would really recommend this book.  It definitely gets a rare 5 stars from me.

To enter, simply complete the rafflecopter below.  The giveaway will end on Friday 8 August.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have you read anything good lately?  Why not come and share it on my July Book Love Linky.  I'd love to see you there!

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of the book for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Siblings {July 2014}

dear beautiful
Going to a wedding earlier in the month provided me with lots of opportunities to capture Meg and Eli together.  

I have to admit, I don't think weddings are complete without children.  There's something about the formal environment which just brings out the best in little kids; think skidding on knees across dance floors and rolling down hills in the middle of the photo-taking.  I don't know what it is...maybe they just know that their parents need and want them to stay nice and clean looking and so they actively pursue the opposite!  Or is that just my two?!




Meg and Eli were inseparable at the wedding and I loved seeing their mischief-making.  From racing across the beautiful lawns to trying to climb the great bronze horse in the grounds, they really embraced the whole 'kids at a wedding' thing and got many appreciative smiles because of it.


Probably a good job they weren't part of the bridal party though.  I think we'll have to work on their faces for my brother's wedding next month!

I am linking this post up with the Siblings project which is hosted by Dear Beautiful and a number of other fantastic bloggers.  

Get Good Summer 2014: Week Two

Week two already!  I am busy counting down the days until the end of the school term at the moment, although with Meg's report due on Friday part of me actually wants to halt time.  I don't want to look!

As I said in my last update, I can't start three out of the five goals until the summer holidays so here is my update on the only two I can currently have a go at:-

Read 10 books
I have surprised even myself with this one; last week I managed to read two books.  The second of the books, Half a Kind by Joe Abercrombie was so un-put-downable (is that a word?!) that I had it glued to my face for an entire day.


Have one interesting date night a week
We managed this one as well, with my Other Half's work offering us tickets to an open air concert with Katherine Jenkins.  I have to admit, it's not the kind of thing we would usually go for but as this particular goal is all about embracing the different then it suited us very well.  

It was also our very first open air concert and whilst we felt a little bit strange getting nicely dressed up with our picnic hamper and camping chairs, tramping across a muddy field, it was actually a very nice evening.  If a little chilly by the end; I kind of gave up on my glamorous look and ended up rocking the granny vibe instead!


Salad in a tupperware container.  How cool are we?!

Have you made any goals this summer?  Head over to Clarina's Contemplations to see the original linky.  

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

I is for...

Intrigue

I am a bit* of a history nerd and love nothing more than exploring crumbly old castles and buildings, much to the disappointment of my husband and children.

My favourite thing of all is to pick a random spot and then stand still, imagining all the people who have passed over that place; what they could hear, smell, see and so on.  It completely fascinates me.  Although I have found on more than one occasion that such actions perplex other visitors who look at me like I may have slightly lost the plot.  Is there anything strange about standing totally still in the ruins of a castle with your eyes shut? Tsk, I think not! 

When we passed this little gap in the wall, I was drawn to it.  It's probably not that old, I actually have no idea, but I immediately enjoyed picturing it in days gone by; imagining what might have been spied through the gap...directly on the other side are some gardens and I can just picture some lovesick stable hand peeking through the wrought iron and watching the lady of the manor as she took her afternoon stroll...or, something.  I don't think my future is in writing historical romance novels *cough* 

But still, it intrigues me, the history that might lie behind this little space in the wall.  It seemed completely out of place as though it had been stuck there as an afterthought and that made it even more interesting.  It stands within Worden Park and may have been part of the original Hall which was sadly mostly destroyed by fire in 1941.  Who knows?!


I am taking part in the Alphabet Photography Project which is being hosted over on PODcast.  Head over there to see how other bloggers have interpreted this week's letter or look out for the #alphabetphoto hashtag on Instagram. 

*Huge nerd, like, the biggest ever.  

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Missing Good Friends...

One thing that we didn't really appreciate when we made the decision to move 100 miles away from the place we had spent 6 years of our lives was the loss of good friends. 

I don't think it sunk in until that first weekend; when we realised with a stomach drop that there would be no knock at the door from our dear friends who would come round each Sunday evening and slouch in front of the TV or play board games, eat some food and generally just hang out and allow us to feel like ourselves again, not like parents of young children who never get to leave the house without weeks of forward planning.

There was no-one to call at a moments notice and see whether they wanted to go for a picnic because the weather was nice, or check out a local park 'just because'.  It is actually one of the things I have been the saddest about since we left in January.

For me, making friends is difficult.  I don't do it easily and as my Other Half works long hours, the socialising and the building of relationships generally falls to me.  Which is a shame as he really is better at it than I am!  

It's disheartening that people don't realise that just because I'm quiet, doesn't mean I don't have things to say, don't want to be heard, don't want to be invited out and to be a friend (just for the record, I'm a jolly good friend!)

Plus, I do think I have started to make friends (maybe, eek!) although just last week I had a mini pity-party, crying on my Other Half's shoulder at the fear that I am merely tolerated rather than actively included but still...I know these things take time and I must keep trying!

But, I digress.  A couple of weekends ago we headed back down to the Land of the Lost and attended a wedding.  It was nice not only to be able to dress up and get the kids looking all dapper but also presented a really great opportunity to catch up with some much missed friends.  Due to other commitments it was only a flying visit but that just made the time all the more precious.

Good friends are those you can just pick up with, wherever you left off.  It's as though no time has passed between you and everything is as simple and as fun as it was the last time you were chatting over a glass of wine and some good food.


It was refreshing to have that and it made us both walk away resolving that we need to make some time to visit our friends properly.  Obviously, there are those who aren't featured in the photo, or who weren't at the wedding and we hope that you know who you are, know how valued you are and let us come and visit soon! 

Whilst I don't regret the decision to move sometimes I do wish I could scoop up all my amazing friends and bring them here.  To be able to cushion myself in their friendship and love and care and know that if I just fancy a mooch in someone's garden, enjoying cake and wine because the sun is shining, that I will be very welcome!

Have you ever found making friends difficult?  

Do you find it difficult to make time to see old friends in the mix of life?

Monday, 7 July 2014

Color Run, Manchester

On Saturday, the whole family set off for the Etihad stadium in Manchester.

The reason?

Meg was running in the 5k Color Run accompanied, a little reluctantly, by me.  She had been very keen to take part, not just because it was raising money for Save the Children but also because it sounded like a lot of fun.  What child wouldn't want to be given permission to get covered head to toe in paint?!

She made a little video beforehand, which explained why she wanted to take part:



On the day we joined the thousands of people standing at the start line and waited our turn to set off.  Having done Race for Life last year, I had some idea of what to expect but, as you might expect, the atmosphere here was slightly different.  They don't time the Color Run and as its tag line in 'the happiest 5k on the planet' you can probably imagine it's not for the serious runner.

The weather was glorious, which was a relief.  It had been miserable the day before and I had wondered whether it was worth going if we were just going to get rained on but I needn't have worried, the sun made an appearance after all.


There were four paint stations; pink, blue, yellow and orange, which were spread out at various intervals throughout the run.  One of the reasons they don't time the race, and why it probably isn't for those who want to test themselves, is that people often hang about in the paint sections, rolling around and throwing the powder and generally enjoying themselves and making sure they are completely covered.


The only downside to this is that it did create a bottleneck and you were left queuing just to get into the next paint section!

We ran where we could, and managed to complete the race in under an hour which I wasn't expecting as it was quite slow going at some points.  Especially when Meg decided to play in the yellow paint.  I don't know if it was the colour, or just her energy at that point but she absolutely loved being in the yellow paint; was laughing and giggling and scooping up big handfuls to throw at passers-by.


Overall the run was brilliant fun.  Meg was in her element, being high-fived by the other runners and being allowed to get completely messy.  I enjoyed that part a bit less, especially when someone decided to throw a big splodge of orange paint in my face.  I can categorically say that powder paint does not taste nice.

Of course, the best thing really is that people were taking part in the race to raise money for a good cause.  Meg was raising money for Save the Children and almost doubled her initial target of £50 which was brilliant.  A huge thank you to everyone who sponsored her *cough* there's still time *cough* - it was really amazing to be able to explain to Meg what the money she has raised will help do.

That £50 will:

* train a midwife in basic life-saving skills
* feed 3 families nutritious food for a month in an emergency
* pay for 15 mosquito nets to protect children from malaria
* treat 140 children for life-threatening diarrhoea
* buy 25 blankets to keep babies suffering from deadly pneumonia warm.


...and that, in my book, made it worth taking a shot of paint to the face!


As was seeing this in Meg's sharing book for school.  Heart melting moment!


Thank you to LV= for providing me with the ticket.